Protesters took to the streets in Lahore, blocked roads and set fire to vehicles as they vented their anger against Pakistan’s Supreme Court’s decision to acquit Asia Bibi on charges of blasphemy for which she had been sentenced to death.
In response to the Supreme Court’s ruling, supporters of right-wing Islamist political party Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) condemned the verdict and its supporters pelted police with stones in Lahore.
Asia Bibi, a mother of five from Punjab province, was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 and sentenced to hang after she was accused of defiling the name of the Prophet Mohammed during an argument in 2009 before with Muslim labourers.
The workers had refused to drink from a bucket of water Asia Bibi had touched because she was not Muslim. At the time, Asia Bibi said the case was a matter of women who didn't like her "taking revenge."
She won her appeal against the conviction and subsequent death sentence on Wednesday.
Supporters of Tehreek-e Labbaik had vowed to take to the streets across Pakistan if Asia Bibi was released, and protests broke out in Islamabad and Lahore soon after the ruling was announced. A road linking Islamabad and Rawalpindi was closed off by the protesters.
She had been earlier sentenced to death for blasphemy. pic.twitter.com/bPttbRQvlr
— Baloch🏳 (@ASJBaloch) October 31, 2018
Pakistan police had to resort to invoking Section 144, which prevents the gathering of more than four people at a single location. Residents were also urged to stay indoors as TLP protesters continued to vandalise in various cities.
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan made a special address on the ruling as television channels showed the situation spiralling out of control in various cities.
Imran Khan in his address said: "I'm here only because a Supreme Court verdict was announced today and the way a small section reacted to it and the language that they used...I'm forced to address you," local media quoted him as saying.
He then upheld the top court's verdict, saying that the decision of the judges was according to the constitution and "Pakistan's constitution according to the teachings of Islam."
"Saying that the judges of the Supreme Court are 'Wajib ul Qatl' (Worthy of death) and terming the army chief as 'non-Muslim', and calling for a revolt against the chief justice and army chief...This is unacceptable," Geo TV quoted the Pakistan prime minister as saying.
He blamed the TLP protesters for “inciting you (Pakistanis) for their own political gain, you should not get trapped by them for the sake of the country, they are doing no service to Islam.”
Khan added, "We will protect people's properties and lives, we will not allow any sabotage, we will not allow any traffic to be stopped.”
The protesters were led by firebrand cleric Khadim Hussain Rizvi, who took to the streets in protests, demanding Asia Bibi's public execution.
The government also added special protection for the three judges who ruled to acquit Asia Bibi, after a Muslim cleric in Lahore urged Islamic extremists to kill them.